Tips: ADHD & the Naughty Step

You may be more familiar with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder than the Naughty Step. However, many parents will associate ADHD with discipline and that is exactly what the naughty step is - a British term for a time-out at the bottom of the stairs.

When parents contact me regarding appropriate services and accommodations for their child with ADHD at school, the conversation is often tinged with disappointment over their child's behavior. Frequently, motivational strategies have been abandoned and positive behavior supports have devolved into: "well, he deserves to be in DAEP (Disciplinary Alternative Educational Placement)."

One of the biggest challenges for parents is remaining positive and persisting with effective parenting strategies. It can be exhausting. ADHD is a strangely "invisible" impairment that sometimes relies on your child explaining its impact to you. Children with ADHD are generally not aware of their differences from others when they are very young. They just know that they are disciplined for doing something "wrong." More often that not, you, the parent, are more likely to be reacting to meltdowns than proactively preventing them. Here are some general tips for parents:

1) Check your own mood and frustration levels:

Are you throwing fuel on the fire? Approach your child constructively and don't use language that is harmful to their perception of you as a parent. Ask yourself before speaking, is this going to help him/her become a resilient and independent adult later on? Use an ADHD strategy to stop yourself in a heated moment - put your hand over your mouth for a few seconds before speaking. Preserve your ability to engage in problem-solving activities with your child. This is especially important for parents who travel and have infrequent interactions with their children. Assume that your child is experiencing difficulties with peers and other adults, they may withdraw from coming to you for help and advice if most of your conversations are negative.

2) Set reasonable expectations for functionality:

Teenagers are as much as 30% behind their peers developmentally. Commit that to memory. Expect a 17 year old to act more like a 13 year old and adjust your expectations and level of engagement in their day-today activities. While you and your child are trying out methods and aids that may compensate for the executive functioning gap, don't revert to describing his/her lack of skills as disappointing. Offer your child limited choices to give them the opportunity to focus on solutions without telling them what to do. Power struggles equal more power struggles, so prevent them.

3) Give them a safe space to try and fail - and keep trying

You may have a therapist or a psychiatrist and fill prescriptions, but by High School, failure is high-stakes. Your teenager will try to prepare for further or higher education in 4 short years. This is a time when you may consider trialing an ADHD Coach to create a space for your young adult to work on executive functioning skills and adopt tools that optimize their independent living experience when they leave home. Provide a judgment-free zone so they can continue to "separate" from you as they mature.

As a parent of three adult children with ADHD, it was only when my oldest son verbalized how he could not continuously watch a football being thrown to him, that I fully understood his day-to day challenges with visual attention in any setting. It is hard to imagine that level of interference when performing a 3 second action. Think about what you cannot see, anticipate the struggle and moderate how you discipline accordingly.

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Virginia Spencer,  M.Ed.,

(630) 251-5658

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